Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey)
hates his life. He hates his job as a writer for an advertising magazine.
He's grown apart from his family. His wife
(Annette Bening), a real estate saleswoman, is "joyless" and
his teenage daughter (Thora Birch) resents him. The highlight of his day
is masturbating in the shower. So, rather than complain about it, Lester
decides to take matters into his own hands and change his life for the
better. American Beauty chronicles this change-of-life process and the
effect it has on Lester, his family, and his neighbors.
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening,
and Thora Birch
Beauty follows Lester's mid-life crisis by intertwining his
actions, which include blackmailing his boss and buying a 1970 Firebird,
with his fantasies involving his daughter's friend, Angela (Mena Suvari).
Lester yearns for the days when his life was all ahead of him and he had
no responsibilities. It's hard not to be sympathetic to his feelings,
especially when the movie does such a beautiful job of making the alternative
seem so unpleasant.
Lester is the main focus of the film, but he's not the only one feeling
unhappy. His daughter, Jane, is saving money for breast implants she clearly
doesn't need. She feels Lester doesn't care what happens to her as they
haven't really talked for months. She finds solace in Ricky Fitts (Wes
Bentley,) a new neighbor who videotapes her every move while attempting
to escape the wrath of his Marine colonel father.
Lester's wife, Carolyn, is
cheating on him with her main business competitor, Buddy King (Peter
Gallagher), "The King of Real Estate," who
has agreed to help her sagging career. She has clearly become more interested
in the material things in life, but also feels like she's a victim in
the deteriorating relationship with her husband.
My initial description of the
movie does little to accurately capture what the movie conveys. The
movie's tagline is "Look closer" and
that's exactly what this film does to suburban life and the feelings associated
with happiness. It invites you in to look at life's hidden beauty and
discover what really makes you happy.
The movie is a winner due to the combination of fantastic performances
from the principal characters, a beautiful musical score, excellent direction
by Sam Mendes, and a sharp script by Alan Ball. Thankfully, the heavy
subject matter is given a comedic tone mainly due to the the sheer oddity
of some of the situations. The interplay of the actors in these situations
is simply brilliant and stunningly emotional.
Unfortunately, it makes the movie a bit hard to describe in such a way
that sounds anywhere near as appealing as it should. So I'll say this:
American Beauty has been nominated for eight Academy Awards this year.
Frankly, I hope it wins in every category.
tagline and important theme of the film, "Look closer," can
be seen in Lester's cubicle at work. (Source: The
Internet Movie Database)